Apologies for the lack of posts, despite all the adventures I’ve been having – I have been both busy and not really feeling the whole writing thing (which makes writing a blog post more tedious than fun and no one wants to read tedious writing now, do they).
This is being written in the coach on the way to Heathrow Airport. That’s right, I’m coming home (cue music: “I’m coming home, I’m coming home, tell the world that I’m coming home….”)! It looks to be a great day for flying so I’m hoping for no delays at this end so I can have a slightly more relaxed time in Dubai than I did last time! That was hectic… But it is nice here today. One thing that is nice here is that on hot days, the air is warm enough so that you can sit in the shade to escape the worst heat but you won’t get cold. The upside to having a fully functioning ozone layer, I suppose.
There is so much to catch up on, including a 5 day trip to Scotland! I can’t remember exactly where I left off last time so I’ll start with Scotland and go back and fill in the blanks at a later date if I need to. Anyway, to Scotland!
The plan to go to Scotland began a couple of months ago as a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” moment, when I read an article about a café run in the highlands by a kiwi. Now, I haven’t yet made it to that café as my plans changed slightly from there but it is still on my to do list, as long as it stays open! My plan was to use my travel scholarship I won through Orbit to pay for as much as possible, which ended up working quite well. It didn’t cover all of it but enough to make it possible! Eventually I also managed to get my friend (referred to her as ‘A’) to tag along as well, which was even better 😀
** I am now writing this in Heathrow Departure lounge, waiting until 9pm local time when my boarding gate will be shown **
The train up to Scotland was quite busy, especially in the middle of the journey where there were several people who had to stand. Thankfully I had a reserved seat so was able to relax and enjoy the view rather than stand. And what a view! I didn’t get many photos because photos from a moving train with a not-super-duper camera isn’t the best, but that didn’t stop me enjoying it myself! It was fun messaging Mum where I was at each stop as she would be looking them up online and sometimes send fun facts about where I had just passed through (for example, did you know that the only Formula One driver to be disqualified for driving too slow was from Derby?!). My trip was with CrossCountry Trains and I really did go cross country. I started in Exeter which is in the South West of England, went up northwards through Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield then across to York, Durham, Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed and Edinburgh (South East Scotland) before cutting across to Glasgow then finally to Aye (South West Scotland). So I covered a lot of ground in one day! A was on another train that went basically up the west coast that took less time but involved more transfers. We were both pretty sick of trains by the end of the day, though! Having met up in Ayr again, we walked to our accommodation, enjoying the stretch and the architecture and the fact that the sun was still up! We were staying in a lovely little B&B about 20 min walk from the trainstation and town.
In the morning we had arranged to meet up with a friend of my Mum’s from China. She showed up around Ayr a little (it is a little place so there wasn’t much to see, hehehe), including a walk on the beach in which A decided to go paddling. Mum’s friend suggested that we go to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum which was in a neighboring village and that ended up being a really good idea! We left her to go to another Robert Burns festival in another direction, agreeing to meet up for dinner afterwards. There were a few bumps in getting there, including the bus timetable, google maps and the actual buses all having slightly different ideas about when they were meant to be, and not knowing where we were to ask the driver to stop at the right place but thankfully he remembered we had said that was where we were going so stopped to let us off at the right place. There are two parts to the museum, connected by a path called “Poet’s walk”, decorated with little statues depicting different things from Robert Burns’ poems and songs. The first part is the cottage in which Robert Burns was born and spent the first 7 years of his life. The man there was very to tell us all about the different parts of his life from what schooling Robert would have had, to what they would have been allowed to do on a Sunday. The other part was a museum looking at his adult life, his (many) children, poems and ideas. There were lots of points where you could sit down and listen through a phone-like speaker to one of his songs or poems. There, again, we had a lady take us around to tell us about the different parts of the museum and, maybe, a little more information than we would have got just by looking ourselves. Finally we followed the path further to the Robert Burns monument and the Brig o’ Doon (Brig = Bridge in Scots, Doon is the name of the river). The Brig ‘o Doon features in one of Burns’ poems called Tam o’ Shanter (Shanter being a village nearby), in which Tam, coming home late in the pouring rain from the s in Ayr after a market day, disrupts some witches in the local abandoned kirk, or church. Upon being discovered, the witches chase Tam down the road and he knows the only way to be safe is to cross the keystone on the bridge over the river Doon, as witches cannot cross running water. Unfortunately, just as he was crossing the bridge, one of the witches reaches him and grabs his horses tail! The poor beast jumps forward, ripping out its own tail, to get Tam to safety.
Dinner was really good, a mixture of British and Chinese food, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has been too long since I had real Chinese food, so the trip to Scotland was well worth it, just for that meal and the conversation afterwards! There are some things that I think you have to experience, like living in a foreign country and having to learn the local language to survive, to be able to really understand. In situations like that, being able to find someone who has experienced it too to talk to is an amazing feeling and, as I discovered again this afternoon (ooo, suspense), even if you don’t know each other well, you can still find so much to talk about just based on that. That evening, we ended up talking until almost 11pm at which point I suddenly realised it was as dark as it was going to get and A and I should probably be heading back to our accommodation! We decided to catch the bus (driver let us on even though it was a night bus and we had day passes, and let us off when we realised we missed our stop) rather than walk in a strange city, in the dark, late at night.
Sunday was our last day in Ayr and, after much deliberation, we decided to go to a church we walked past into town. I’m really glad we did go in as from the moment we got there, they were all so friendly and happy to see us! In the morning tea after the service, we had so many people come and ask us where we were from, why had we decided to come in (and very happy when we said we just walked in off the street), and apologising because we weren’t able to meet the normal minister because he was away at present. One couple offered us a lift to the train station, as well, as it was raining, which was very kind! A and I both agreed that we had really enjoyed the service (Church of Scotland, with some hymns that I recognised from growing up in Blenheim) and meeting the people there, as well. In Glasgow, we dropped our bags and went on adventure in search of a castle to explore. We eventually managed to find one, a confusing bus ride later, and it was perfect! It was free entry, with just a few signs up saying what it was for, more of a ruin in some ways but still strong enough to go up one of the towers to get the view from the top! I wasn’t a fan of the ladders but the view was worth it. The wind was super strong, making my hiking trousers make that cool flag-whipping-in-the-wind sound and nearly knock us both over. While we were there is started to rain and we decided it didn’t look like a passing shower so we would head back rather than try to wait it out. That lead to another confusing bus ride, as the bus we caught was on a loop, so we went back past the same place what felt like a couple of times, stopped at the outer terminal, then headed back into town. We were fine with the loops, though, as we had no time constraints and it was a drier way to see the city than walking!
Monday was The Tour, the reason we both really wanted to go to Scotland (apart from it being, you know, Scotland). It was our day tour to Loch Ness. The driver was really cool (Timberbush Tours, driver Kenny), making jokes and telling stories about the area we went through. The tour went from Glasgow, up along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, past Glencoe and Loch Leven, spied Ben Nevis from Fort William, then followed the Caledonian Canal up past Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and finally up along Loch Ness. We dropped some people at Urquhart Castle so they could look around, before going further up to where the visitor center and cruises were. We decided to go on the hour long cruise around part of Loch Ness, past the castle to get a view of it from the water and see more of the loch. Despite the wind and rain it was a really cool trip – whether you believe in Nessie or not, Loch Ness is an incredible body of water. It isn’t the deepest, or the widest, loch in Scotland, but the volume of water held in it is the largest. It holds more water than all the lakes in England combined. As for Nessie, there have been stories around about a great monster/large fish of varying descriptions around for thousands of years. St Columba is said to have commanded a monster from the lake to stop terrorising the people on the shores. Maybe that was Nessie? But if it was, is she still alive? Is she even a she? The visitor center and the cruise both milked the legend for all they could, saying things like “if you keep an eye on the radar, you’ll see just how deep the loch is. You’ll also see funny readings from fish passing underneath. And who knows who else you might catch a glimpse of?”
**Back in NZ at this point, for writing, but waaayyyyy behind…. my bad 😛 **
After leaving Loch Ness we went up to Inverness and back down the other side, through the eastern highlands, stopping off once for a refreshment break, then back to Glasgow. It was a pretty full on day, lots of sitting on the bus but also lots of things to see and hear. Most of the time, if the driver wasn’t talking, he would either play Scottish music, or a recording with stories about the history of where we were passing through, which were really interesting.
There were some good quotes and stories from the day, with my favourites from the driver being:
“There’s a big yellow ball in the sky, I think you people from outside of Scotland call it the sun. If it does scare you, don’t worry, it won’t be there for long.”
(About believing in Loch Ness) “If you don’t believe St Coumba, who will you believe?”
We also had “Nessie Revenge” because most people on the bus we not open believers of the Loch Ness Monster.
Nessie Revenge One: The driver sang a verse from a Scots ballad.
Nessie Revenge Two: Playing ‘Grandad’ music (“Listen and weep”)
Nessie Revenge Three (“No one survives Nessie Revenge Three”): Lady Gaga, Bad Romance. (“Emergency exits don’t work when the vehicle is in motion.”)
A couple of interesting facts (well, I found them interesting, anyway):
Ben Nevis = Mountain (Ben) with its head in the clouds (Nevis) – it is the highest mountain in Scotland.
The Glencoe massacre, while not the largest massacre in Scottish history (looking at either what the government did to the clans or what the clans did to each other), it is as well known and infamous as it is because it was committed while the Campbell’s were under the hospitality of the MacDonald’s. Highland hospitality was a bit thing – if word got out that a clan had denied hospitality to someone seeking it, they could basically be driven out. And the weather in the Highlands could be so viscous the MacDonald’s of Glencoe saw nothing suspicious in a group of Campbell’s and soldiers seeking hospitality in their camp. This hospitality was betrayed, however, when the MacDonald’s were slaughtered, some in their sleep, some killed by exposure as they tried to get away. Highlanders have long memories and, apparently, having the name Campbell in those parts still isn’t a good way to make friends.
There is way more that I could say but the best way to hear all the stories: Go to Scotland and hear them for yourself 😀 hehehe
On our final day in Scotland, after having breakfast at Witherspoons’, we went for more of a wander around town before catching our trains back to Exeter. We were on separate trains again because I had a set route I could go on and she was wanting to get back to town earlier to say goodbye to some friends before summer.
While we had been in Scotland I had been asked by someone back home to be part of a drama when I got back in the country, so I spent some of the time on the train learning my lines for that (spoiler alert: While catching up with a friend before going to Heathrow I leart that my character had been changed so I didn’t need to learn those lines after all, I had new ones to learn 😛 ).
But that is a story for another post. This one has been too long in coming anyway!!